Leslie Barnes


Reproductive Rights

#StopTheBans: How 501(c)(3) Organizations Can Protect Access to Abortion

As state lawmakers act with lightning speed to ban abortions, fierce and experienced advocates in the reproductive justice space have been hard at work to protect access to abortion care. Many nonprofits whose main missions are not reproductive issues may also want to join the fight — and you have many tools at your disposal, such as:

  •         Joining sign-on letters or doing press outreach to highlight the dangers of the bans
  •         Lifting up and participating in action alerts of partner organizations
  •         Joining coalitions to maximize efforts aimed at protecting access to abortion
  •         Making grants to reproductive justice organizations
  •         Joining lawsuits challenging the new laws
  •         Supporting ballot measures to overturn bans
  •         Educating candidates and elected officials

But what if your organization doesn’t have experience managing these activities? Does that mean you have to stand on the sidelines while reproductive rights are attacked? The answer is a resounding “No,” because Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program is available to help build nonprofits’ capacity to advocate effectively while staying legally compliant.

A Systematic Attack on Bodily Agency

Most recently, Missouri joined Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio in 2019 in banning access to abortion. In an interview with Generocity, Women’s Medical Fund Executive Director Elicia Gonzales described these assaults this way: “The current landscape is the result of a systematic attack on bodily agency, one that was intentional and by design.”

Tools for Nonprofits to Fight Back

501(c)(3) public charities have many opportunities to help shape public policy and encourage civic engagement without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. Federal law permits (c)(3) public charities to engage in lobbying, up to a generous limit, as well as unlimited non-lobbying advocacy activities that further the organization’s mission.

For instance, (c)(3) public charities CAN ask their lawmakers to oppose abortion bans and work to support ballot measures to overturn abortion bans, both of which are activities considered lobbying for IRS purposes.  Additionally, (c)(3) public charities can work to overturn bans through litigation, organize grassroots support, and train community members to mobilize their communities. (C)(3) organizations can maximize their advocacy by writing op-eds or letters to the editor, issuing press releases and organizing press availabilities, and joining sign-on letters. It is possible that op-eds and other communication activities might be considered a lobbying communication depending upon the content and the audience, so be sure to double-check. The Bolder Advocacy team of attorneys is available to field your questions about whether activities are considered lobbying or non-lobbying activities and how to track your lobbying activities.

501(c)(3) organizations can further maximize their advocacy efforts and expand their ability to lobby by taking what is called the “501(h) election” and tracking their lobbying expenses. In this way, an electing public charity can lift up and share/retweet lobbying communications of reproductive rights advocates and share action alerts, without expending a lot of money or coming close to their generous lobbying limit. Check out Being a Player: A Guide to IRS Lobbying Regulations for Advocacy Charities to learn how lobbying is defined and ways 501(c)(3)s can maximize their advocacy.

While (c)(3) organizations cannot support or oppose candidates, they can mobilize underrepresented voters and educate candidates on the issues in a nonpartisan way. See our resources below to explore ways to increase civic engagement and advocacy during an election year.

A Word About Boycotts

In response to the recent bans, many have considered boycotting the offending states to send a message to lawmakers. Boycotts can be a legal and valid type of advocacy for 501(c)(3) organizations. But boycotts might further harm those most impacted by the bans: communities of color, impoverished persons and LGBTQ communities. There are many other ways to lift up reproductive justice efforts led by the individuals most impacted by the bans.

Former gubernatorial nominee and founder of Fair Fight Georgia, Stacey Abrams, has urged people not to boycott states that passed abortion bans but to support local organizations working on reproductive justice issues instead. And local activist and columnist for Essence, Taylor Crumpton, seconds the call to support local black-led organizations such as Spark Reproductive Justice Now!, The Georgia chapter of URGE-Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity and ARC-Access to Reproductive Care – Southeast.

Existing reproductive justice organizations need allies to take the time to listen and learn about their efforts and struggles, invest resources in their projects, and stand alongside the existing organizations and lift up their message.

Choose to Be an Ally

501(c)(3) organizations can make grants to or become members of organizations that work for reproductive rights in a way that also furthers the (c)(3)’s own mission. Even if your (c)(3)’s primary mission is not reproductive health care, you might still be able to support reproductive-rights nonprofits when the missions of your organizations intersect. For example, if your 501(c)(3)’s mission is to protect the environment, you could attend a rally or make grants to organizations that advocate for reproductive rights as a part of the fight to reduce overpopulation.

Additional Resources on Advocacy for Nonprofits

See Rules of the Game and various checklists and toolkits, such as Candidate Education, to learn how 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in election-year advocacy.

See The Connection to learn more about how nonprofits can create and manage affiliated organizations (c4s and PACs).

To learn more about how 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s can work together, check out our 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) Collaboration toolkit here.

To get technical assistance with additional questions, our hotline is free and available by dialing 866-NP-LOBBY or emailing us at advocacy@afj.org.

Finally, while the current abortion bans are grabbing the headlines, it’s important to recognize that the concept of “reproductive justice” was pioneered by black activists and encompasses much more than access to abortion. To learn more, be sure to check out Spark Reproductive Justice Now.